Security without reservations at New York's Peninsula Hotel
 
Security without reservations at New York's Peninsula Hotel

Aug 1, 1997 12:00 PM
DON GARBERA

The Peninsula Hotel's security operation lives up to the hotel's first-class reputation. The Peninsula Hotel is in the heart of New York's most prestigious business, shopping and entertainment district. The security operation lives up to the hotel's first-class reputation.

Not so long ago, The Peninsula Hotel security staff came to the rescue of New York City.

During 1994, approximately 13 incidents around New York City involved robberies at gun point by two individuals who had an eye for jewelry. They would follow unsuspecting victims on public streets and in public places, and, when the time was right, "relieve" them of their jewelry.

The two bandits became infamous after one of them shot the parents of a woman shopping for a wedding dress at Vera Wang, an upscale Madison Avenue designer. The two men were so well-dressed that they blended into the upscale environment of the area, and the shooter was dubbed the "Gentleman Bandit."

In June of the same year, the Gentleman Bandit followed an unsuspecting couple into one of The Peninsula Hotel's elevators. He selected a floor, and when the elevator stopped at that floor, he produced a gun and demanded that the couple hand over their jewelry. After the couple complied, he exited the hotel through an employee entrance and disappeared into pedestrian street traffic.

Because the robber was carrying a gun, the staff did not confront, challenge or apprehend him, as their training instructed for such instances. However, he was recorded by the CCTV system. Still captures from the tapes were handed over to police, who determined that he was the Gentleman Bandit involved in the Vera Wang shooting.

When the clips from the video were displayed on local news broadcasts, someone came forward and identified the perpetrator. The bandit and his accomplice were picked up shooting pool in a Queens, N.Y., pool hall.

The Peninsula Hotel, the scene of the bandit's undoing, is located in the heart of Manhattan's most prestigious business, shopping and entertainment district. The 23-story luxury hotel contains 242 rooms, including 42 suites, and a presidential suite that features original works of art within the confines of its more than 2,500 square feet of living space.

The Peninsula Hotel dates back to 1988, when Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., the oldest hotel company in Asia, acquired the Hotel Maxim's de Paris (originally The Gotham) in New York City for $127 million.

It was renamed The Peninsula Hotel after the Peninsula Hong Kong, the flagship hotel of the Peninsula Group.

Security and safety of guests, hotel personnel and property are responsibilities of Jimmy Chin, director of risk management. Chin's background includes service as director of security for two other prestigious New York hotels: The Plaza Hotel and The Regency Hotel.

Updating the access control system

Chin joined The Peninsula in 1992. Upon his arrival, he found that access control for guest rooms consisted of Yaletronics locks. "It was one of the pioneer systems of the industry," says Chin, "but it only enabled a reading of the last 15 entries. Also, the CCTV system consisted of only about a dozen cameras." Under Chin's direction, the hotel has upgraded the security system to include more than 30 cameras and an access control system from VingCard Systems Inc., Dallas, for guest rooms.

The VingCard 3000 is able to read back the last 100 entries, giving a better audit trail. "We can go back one or two weeks if we need to," notes Chin. "In addition, we also use the VingCard system in other areas such as the linen closet, electrical closets, store rooms and all administrative offices. These cards are all time-zoned to allow limited access only."

The system can also interface with the hotel's information network. For example, when a new guest checks in, guest information such as last name, first name and length of stay is keyed into the hotel's computer system. The hotel computer then transfers the information to the access control system, eliminating the need to input duplicate information.

Covert and overt cameras

CCTV cameras at the hotel include Sony, JVC and Javelin. They are located in most public areas such as lobbies, elevators, exterior perimeter locations, health spa facility, and back-of-house areas such as the drop-safe room, the guest safe deposit box room, employee population quarters and the store room.

Chin has a covert operation that incorporates small passive infrared Sony cameras that monitor employee activities in certain areas. "The hotel staff and security personnel are aware that I monitor their activities, which helps them avoid temptation," he says. Chin employs some covert monitoring in the security control room, and in his private office.

Chin reports: "About a year ago, we had an incident where a hotel employee was not aware that a covert camera was watching him; there were no overt cameras in the vicinity. So he decided to gather up hotel property and hide it in an area where he planned to remove it at a later time. He was spotted by an officer who was assigned to the control room. We waited for him to vacate the area, at which time the hidden property was reviewed. Then we waited for him to return to collect his booty, at which time an officer was dispatched to the area to confront him. He was subsequently dismissed."

Motion detectors are used in areas such as the health spa and swimming pool. In the security control room, the EZPlex multiplexer from Javelin Systems, Torrance, Calif., controls motion detectors. When the system is armed and movement occurs at a particular location, the unit goes into an alarm mode. Simultaneously, video from the location is exhibited full-screen on one of the control room's main monitors.

The control room houses all Javelin monitors, one Javelin multiplexer and two multiplexers from Robot Research Inc., San Diego. VCRs from Javelin and Sanyo Security Video Products, Chatsworth, Calif., record 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Security officer training consists of the mandatory New York State Guard Act Training Program, along with specific training provided by Chin and his staff, including training applicable to The Laws of Innkeepers, which govern the activities and liabilities of hotels around the world. The laws determine the limits of liability placed upon hotels as to property loss and injury.

The 15-member security staff operates on a yearly budget of $600,000.

Fire safety

Chin is also responsible for the fire safety system and serves as the fire safety director, certified by the Fire Department of the City of New York (NYCFD). He is also a member of the NYCFD Industrial Advisory Board, as well as chairman of the NYC Hotel Association's Committee on Safety and Security.

The fire system is a Comtrak 2000 multiplex computerized automated display unit made by Casey Systems. Installed in August 1996, it has the ability to provide a detailed floor plan of an area experiencing a fire alarm condition.

The primary fire control panel is located in the lobby of the hotel, and a redundant control panel is located within the security control room. "The advantage of having two control panels, which is uncommon, is if one malfunctions, the other is immediately activated," says Chin.

The Comtrak 2000 has the ability to zone-out different areas within the building to accommodate work that could possibly set off the fire system. The fire system also allows security personnel to talk with people in fire-affected areas by merely picking up a phone handset.

The panel provides readings on all 700 fire safety devices located throughout the 23-story building, enabling Chin to monitor various buildingdevices that could contribute to a fire condition if left in the "on" position. For example, if fans in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system do not shut down during a fire condition, Chin can respond accordingly.

Looking toward the future, Chin comments, "It's hoped that our CCTV system will be upgraded to include color cameras in the foreseeable future. We also plan to continue to monitor new technologies that can benefit our operation."

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